14-Day African Wildlife Adventure Photography Workshop - Late August 2012 | Sojourn Series, Aperture Academy

14-Day African Wildlife Adventure Photography Workshop - Late August 2012

Excerpts from the daily journal kept by Instructor, Stephen W. Oachs, during this memorable and exciting workshop...

:: DAY 1 ::

Scott Davis and myself returned (for the 2nd workshop this month) to the exclusive Fairview Hotel in Nairobi. Scott had just returned from teaching the Rwanda Gorilla workshop while I spent a couple extra days between workshops in the Masai Mara, visiting a new lodge and airstrip. Our new set of 12 guests are in route from around the globe as I write this.

  . . . . .

Once everyone had arrived and checked into their 1st class accommodations, we met around the fire in the lobby of the Fairview hotel for orientation. We went through all the details of our 2-week itinerary, which includes us visiting three distinct landscapes, climates and species of wildlife. We enjoyed some wine, asked a lot of questions and shared a few jokes...I can tell this group is going to mesh well, which always makes a trip like this so much better.

  . . . . .

Everyone is now settling in for the night...we have a 3-hour drive in the morning to our first game reserve--Lake Nakuru.

:: DAY 2 ::

After breakfast at the Fairview, we departed and made our way through the hustle and bustle of the streets of Nairobi. Our caravan of four off-road vehicles took us northwest out of the city and into the fertile rural hillsides of Kenya.

As we drove closer, we began dropping down into the famous Rift Valley on our way to Lake Nakuru. We arrived at the Lake Nakuru Lodge (where porters quickly took our luggage to our rooms), took a tour of the grounds and then grabbed a quick lunch.

Our mission today was to get to our first game drive! And we did. Only five minutes out from the lodge, on the road down to the lake shore, we came across many zebra grazing close to the road. The water level at Lake Nakuru this year is higher than normal so there are a lot of amazing and colorful birds to photograph as well, so we immediately jumped into action taking great images of zebras, birds and then just a short time later, rhinos!

:: DAY 3 ::

This morning we left at 6:30am from the Lake Nakuru Lodge, anxious to see what new animals we may spot and photograph. The light this morning was really nice, so our hopes were high for great subject matter. We photographed more grazers such as zebras, Cape buffalo, impalla, and many bird species. We then drove to the cliffside overlook called, "Out of Africa," where we ate a picnic style breakfast while enjoying vast views of Lake Nakuru below.

After a mid-day break, we headed back out and it didn't take long before we came across the rhinos we saw the previous evening. But even better, they had a baby and he was running around playing. It was very cute to watch and we were able to capture many images of his interactions with his mother and others in the area.

:: DAY 4 ::

With some great warmup shooting under our belts, we packed up this morning and departed for our next location, Samburu. Samburu is a game reserve far to the northeast of Nakuru, so we started early for our drive to ensure we could arrive with enough time to have an afternoon game drive there.

We made a one-hour lunch stop at a very cool restaurant called, "Trout Tree" (a restaurant that farms fresh trout and has seating for guests built into a huge tree house). It's really a place you have to see to believe!

We arrived into Samburu in the mid afternoon and immediately the action was great! We photographed a large herd of elephants, with several small baby elephants, crossing the Samburu river. It was great to watch the parents help the little ones onto the shore when they got stuck. It was quite a sight to witness, let alone be able to photograph!

Then, as we're game driving again, one of our rovers spotted a leopard! We followed along from the road, keeping him in our sights but he was way up in the cliffs, so our hope was to keep eyes on him until he came down closer for some photo opps. We waited a good hour, but the sun was starting to set and we had to return to our tent camp for the night. We are determined to see him again though, so at first light we'll return to see if we might be able to relocate him. What a beautiful cat!

:: DAY 5 ::

This morning we headed right back to the rocky cliff area and within minutes we spot the leopard climbing down out of a tree! Again, he's far in the distance, but this time we did manage to fire off a few shots...a few good enough to be called keepers!

Today's afternoon game drive was really great...we found and photographed lion cubs. They played and gave us a show for a good 30 minutes, then a large group of elephants entered the scene and they could smell the lions so they had all their trunks up to smell and circled to protect the young. It was an amazing sight to see mother nature in action like that...and to be in the middle of it all WHILE it's happening.

On our way back to camp today we made a quick stop, as there were many large giraffe crossing the road. We took some images but mostly just watched as they gracefully walked across the Samburu scrub brush lands.

:: DAY 6 ::

On our last morning in Samburu, we decided to visit the remote tribal village of the Samburu people. We were warmly greeted and all of our guests were extremely generous with their cash donations, as well as gift purchases and the school supplies, clothing and other items they brought to give. The Samburu people were very open to allowing our group to photograph their ornate and vibrant garb, jewelry and traditional huts. They even showed us how they make fire by rubbing two sticks together and using dried cow dung as kindling.

  . . . . .

This afternoon we went on our last Samburu game drive and it proved to be a good one! We worked a large herd of elephants along the river, then entered giraffes, too! It was great...in every direction we looked we had some great photographic opportunity...baby elephants and baby giraffes...all learning the ways of life. Such a special thing to see!

:: DAY 7 ::

After a short morning game drive, we returned to the lodge for a hot breakfast and to give us enough time to pack up for our flight to the Masai Mara. Since the bridge was washed out last year by flooding, we're having to take the "long way" to the air strip, which means driving all the way back to the highway, then back into the park on the other side of the Samburu river. You've never seen a bumpy road until you've driven on this one! And, to top it off, we're running late, so the drivers are going a little faster than usual. Hang on!

  . . . . .

As we approached the dirt airstrip I couldn't help but have a feeling of excitement as the Masai Mara is truly one of my favorite places on earth. As we all looked out the window, we could see giant herds of wildebeest and thousands of game trails that stretched to every horizon.

  . . . . .

The plane landed in a small rain shower, and as we deplaned and walked to the nearby shelter, we spotted a pride of lions just 200 yards into the grassy field! Needless to say, we kept an eye on them as we loaded up our gear for the short ride to the Serena Lodge.

:: DAY 8 ::

Our first day in the Mara and it was off the charts! We started the morning by witnessing a cheetah hunting a Thompson gazelle... and the action came right across the road in front of our Rover and ended 20 yards from us! It was truly an amazing moment to witness, and at the same time, difficult to watch. I had a hard time deciding who to root for...for the Tommy gazelle to survive...or the cheetah to survive.

  . . . . .

The afternoon's game drive was not as exciting as the morning's, but still a fantastic photographic opportunity. We saw many elephants, Topi and a herd of zebra in beautiful light.

:: DAY 9 ::

This morning started out with an amazing sighting! We had only been out in search of wildlife about 10 minutes when we spotted a beautiful female leopard high in a tree...with a kill! And, the light was as good as it gets...early morning, slightly muted by high clouds...and it was epic! We waited about 30 minutes and watched her eat, then she climbed down and gave us an amazing photo op. And, to top it off, she walked across the field toward us, across the road and reunited with her two cubs. It was really an amazing sight and photo shoot...we were giddy!

  . . . . .

This afternoon, a giant storm rolled over the Masai Mara and drenched us. While we didn't see a single animal (they were smart and ran for cover), we did have a fun time marveling at the heavy rain and fresh smells from the grasslands while watching the magnificent thunder and lightning "show."

:: DAY 10 ::

This morning's game drive started out slow, but when a call came over the radio of a lion with cubs, we were in route! When we arrived, we were able to see them, but just barely, as they were playing in deep grass. Just when we thought this might not be a photo opportunity after all, two cheetahs entered the scene! And to top it off, they were watching the lions and moved in closer. Next thing we knew they both climbed up into a half fallen tree (cheetahs don't climb trees, but in this case, they were able to walk up it). Incredibly, they posed so nice as they kept an eye on the lions. The bad news was we were shooting into the sun, but the moment was so great that we didn't care. Later we'll try converting some of these shots we took into monochrome for that timeless effect and to help maximize the light we had to work with.

As we left the cheetahs, our Rover slid in the mud into a deep ditch and we almost tipped over! Our driver, though, did a great job of getting us out. It's funny in hindsight, but at the time we all hung on just in case.

  . . . . .

This afternoon we made the hour drive to our next camp, Mara Intrepids. Everyone was excited to be back in a tent camp, myself included. They are my favorite way to stay in Africa. We also spotted a small crossing of wildebeest...about 500 of them! Then just a short time later, we came across two young male cheetahs who had recently caught an antelope and were "dining."

:: DAY 11 ::

This morning the group took an optional hot air balloon ride. Since the winds were a little stronger than usual, the balloon had to take off from the sideways position, which meant everyone had to get in sideways, lay on their backs and hang on as the balloon lifted off. Simple, easy and soft take off, but always a little odd when they tell you how the ride will begin! And once aloft, from the balloon, everyone say wildebeest, giraffes, a male lion and several hyenas. After gracefully landing back on the ground, we all enjoyed a champagne bush breakfast that included omelets, pancakes, and more.

  . . . . .

This afternoon we spotted two male lions sleeping in some bushes. After about an hour wait, they finally woke up and started walking, which gave us several opportunities for some great shots. They finally stopped and sat in an open grassy area right at sunset, basking in the light and it was awesome! I saw many great images on everyone's camera screens.
:: DAY 12 ::

Not long after we left camp this morning, we came across a female lion hunting a warthog. We followed her at a distance, as to not interfere, but yet close enough we could witness and photograph the action as it unfolded. After about an hour she finally gave up, but then she came across an injured Cape buffalo. While she entertained the idea of taking down the buffalo, she decided against it... you could tell she realized it was just too big.

We ate a quick breakfast in the field (breakfast boxes, yum!) and then headed to the Masai village to visit a tribe. They welcomed us and we donated money and gifts to this village of about 100. They were happy to dance for us and show us their mud huts and tell us their stories of how they live in this incredible terrain.

:: DAY 13 ::

Our last morning in the Mara was a good one...and for a bonus, we spotted two lions mating. They were in great light for photography and the grass was short, so everyone was able to capture some great images of these two interacting. While they were busy together, a giant herd of wildebeest (thousands of them!) came near, and that was it... the female lion turned her interest toward hunting. After an hour of watching, we thought she might attack, but without the help of her lazy male lion counterpart, she was unsuccessful.

  . . . . .

We've returned to camp to pack up, eat lunch and catch our afternoon flight back to Nairobi. The mood is quiet; I can tell everyone is sad that this amazing trip is coming to an end.

  . . . . .

We spent a couple hours after lunch looking through many of the great images we had captured, and we enjoyed the time working on them in Lightroom, reliving the experiences, the excitement and entrenching the incredible memories forever into our minds and hearts.

:: Closing Entry ::

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who joined Scott and myself on this trip. I won't soon forget all the great times we had and can't wait to see all the new images each and every one of you have in your portfolios! I know from working with many of you in Photoshop and Lightroom during image review that you have some real winners and should be very proud of what you were able to achieve!

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